The Government has settled a case of unlawful discrimination against two men with severe disabilities who both saw their benefits dramatically reduced when they moved Local Authority and were required to claim Universal Credit.
In June this year the High Court ruled that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (SSWP) unlawfully discriminated against the men who will now receive thousands of pounds in compensation after a settlement was agreed today between their lawyers, Leigh Day, and the Government.
The men, who cannot be named for legal reasons are known only as TP and AR.
TP is a former Cambridge graduate who worked in the financial sector in the City and around the world. In 2016 he was diagnosed with a terminal illness; Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and Castleman’s disease.
In October 2016 when he became sick he moved temporarily from London to his parents’ in Dorset but after a few months he returned to Hammersmith and Fulham, a Universal Credit full service area, on the advice of his treating clinicians in order to access specialist healthcare.
AR is 36 and suffers from severe mental health issues. In 2017, he moved from Middlesbrough to Hartlepool, a Universal Credit full service area, as he could no longer afford the property he was living in due to the imposition of the bedroom tax.
In a witness statement to the Court AR said:
“Since moving from Middlesbrough to Hartlepool, with the consequent reduction in my benefits, my quality of life and my happiness has markedly reduced. Not seeing my family regularly contributes to my depressive/manic cycle. If you are isolated it means that you spiral further into a depressive cycle.”
Prior to moving, both TP and AR were in receipt of the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) and Enhanced Disability Premium (EDP), which were specifically aimed at meeting the additional care needs of severely disabled people living alone with no carer.
When they moved both TP and AR were required to make a claim for Universal Credit as they moved into local authorities where the controversial new benefit was being rolled out. According to both the men, they were advised by DWP staff that their benefit entitlement would not change.
Despite repeated assurances from the government that “no one will experience a reduction in the benefit they are receiving at the point of migration to Universal Credit where circumstances remain the same” both claimants saw an immediate drop in their income of around £178 a month when they were moved onto Universal Credit.
When they asked for top up payments they were told that Government policy was that no such payments would be paid until July 2019 when managed migration would begin.
As both claimants testified to the court, the sudden drop of income had a devastating impact on them, both physically and psychologically.
In a witness statement to the Court TP said:
“The constant money worries have made me more isolated and more depressed; both because of my social isolation and because of the anxiety. The stem-cell transplant and chemotherapy was very gruelling and the anxiety around my finances and Universal Credit has made it all a lot worse. It has made me much more tired and much more stressed. This reduction in my income came at the worst time it could have done. I know it has had a detrimental effect on my well-being and I believe it hindered my recovery as it caused me a great deal of stress.”
He will now receive a lump sum of £6,517, which is made up of £3,277 for past financial losses and £3,240 for the non-pecuniary loss. He will also receive £173.50p a month to cover the shortfall in his benefits pending "transitional protection" coming into force.
AR, who suffers from severe mental health issues, will receive a lump sum of £4,788, which is made up of £2,108 for past financial losses and £2,680 under the claim relating to anxiety and distress. He will receive a monthly payment of GBP176 to make up the shortfall in his benefits.
Mr Justice Lewis described the resolution of the claim as "excellent news" he also encouraged the SSWP not to make the settlement confidential as he said it was important that the public were aware of what had happened.
Tessa Gregory, from the human rights team at law firm Leigh Day, who represented the two men, said: "We are pleased that the Secretary of State has agreed to compensate our clients for the unlawful discrimination they have suffered.
"Both of our clients suffered significant hardship because of the sudden reduction to their income when they were transferred to Universal Credit. "Following today's hearing they will now receive a payment of damages for the pain and distress caused, a further payment reflecting the amount of money they lost as a result of being moved onto Universal Credit and an ongoing monthly sum of circa £170 to reflect future loss which will be paid until further regulations come into force.
"We hope that the Secretary of State will now without delay compensate others in the same position and reconsider her decision to pursue an appeal against the original finding of discrimination.
"Our clients also call upon the Secretary of State to urgently reconsider the draft transitional protection regulations she has laid down before the Social Security Advisory Committee which as drafted only compensate those in our clients’ position to a flat rate of £80 a month.
"This plainly does not reflect the actual loss suffered by our clients and thousands like them and compounds the unlawful treatment to which they have been subjected."